Teacher-poet Margaret Simon features a weekly writing invitation on her blog, Reflections on the Teche, in response to a photo. Today’s offering is a resurrection fern photographed by her neighbor and friend, James Edmunds.
Few things are more intriguing to me than a resurrection fern, which seems to die but can manage to live again, maybe even after a century of drought, with a little watering. Somewhere I have an unfinished short story in which this inspiring plant appears…
For today, however, a tanka seemed called for. The form consists of thirty-one syllables, lines of 5/7/5/7/7.It is meant to be song-like.
“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
-Henry Havelock Ellis
Today I share my golden shovel poem inspired by the Ellis quote, posted this week on Two Writing Teachers‘ Slice of Life Story Challenge along with these questions: What are the moments you’re holding onto? What are you letting go of today?
Here’s to the art of living, to holding on while letting go, to savoring moments spent with children, making every one count.
I hold to all moments spent with children in the holy art of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of spontaneous embracing, of living each day in newness. I hold to freedom that lies in forgiving, that paradoxical self-rising power in letting go. I hold to a continuous, necessary cobbling of fine crystal moments, their pure sanguinity mingling with, dulcifying, the blood-tart of a sliced heart. Letting go of despair, of my shortcomings, letting go of yesterday, yet believing in tomorrow, letting go and savoring today in a bluesy canton of confidence, holding onto the children, always the children, just holding on.
My granddaughter loves to bake. I love symbolism. Here’s our flag cobbler. “Canton” in the poem is the term for the flag’s blue square. Strawberries,heart-shaped, represent love; blueberries, youthfulness and confidence in the future. Bake it well.
The future is calling. I’m listening.
Thanks also to Margaret Simon for hosting Poetry Friday. Visit her blog, Reflections on the Teche, for more poems and magnificent quotes in response to “What is poetry?”
Teacher-poet-friend Margaret Simon posts a weekly image on her blog along with an invitation to write: “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem.”
Yesterday’s photo, shot by Margaret’s friend Jen, featured a dew-studded spiderweb framing the sun. A compelling call to compose … leading to my first attempt at a non-rhyming loop poem:
Sunrise feels like hope Hope for a new day Day of repairing damage done Done to one another Another day to try Try starting afresh Afresh with distilling dew Dew droplets, sacred diamonds Diamonds glittering in the light Light illuminating the torn web Web of our intricate interconnectedness.
May we all be found working on our corner of the web—and in the corners of our own hearts.
Thank you, Margaret and Jen, for inspiration to weave.
Many years ago, I attended a public event and found, right there at my destined seat, a little silver ring bearing the word SAPIENTIA.
Latin for “wisdom.”
I cannot remember the event itself, or even the location … only that, as the ring had no traceable owner, it came home with me. A bit of metaphysical metaphorica: If you find wisdom, hang onto it.
This past week I sorted through some old things in my jewelry box and rediscovered the ring.
It’s somewhat tarnished but still glinted in the light when I picked it up. Cool little circle in my hand. It seemed to say: If ever there is a time for wisdom, it’s now.
Consider this definition of wisdom (also known as sapience) from Wikipedia:
The ability to think and act using knowledge, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence, and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.
Meditate on those words a while, in light of recent weeks—as reeling, wounded, protesting America looks inward at its egregious wrongs of police brutality and racism, as more and more voices are raised for solidarity and reform, as people weep and pray for peace. We cannot act accordingly, cannot begin to heal and repair, if we do not think. We cannot advocate for justice and make concerted change if we are not deeply aware of what we think and how it affects our relationships with each other. We cannot obtain knowledge and understanding between us without hard conversations and self-examinations to find bias we didn’t know was there, like a cancerous lump that only grows and festers until it’s removed. Else all of society suffers. We don’t often think of wisdom as a matter of the heart; we don’t typically see it as the wrapping of real compassion and benevolence… not just in our distribution of these, but in allowing ourselves to receive them. Our wellness as a whole relies on our individual willingness to be healed. It begins with listening. In desiring better ways of seeing as the road to better ways of being. Reform is a long process… but with wisdom, it is possible.
Lastly, while wisdom plays an integral part in the relatively new field of positive psychology (what makes human life meaningful and worth living, seeking individual and societal well-being), it also has ancient spiritual roots. In the many religions of the world, wisdom is tied to balance, goodness, the future, seeing things for what they are, a knowledge and fear of God. My Sapientia ring carries the image of a descending dove; in Christian iconography, that represents the Holy Spirit. Long before Christianity, a dove represented… peace.
We pray for peace, as we cry out against injustice. As we advocate for systemic reforms, as we educate ourselves about ourselves. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we have begun.
A friend who knows of my strange love for the loud, jarring buzz of cicadas presented me with this card for my birthday. Fashioned from repurposed material, these snippets, chosen with artistic precision and care, strike deep…
Sing loud & proud
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
The world’s loudest cicada is the Brevisana brevis, a cicada found in Africa that reaches 106.7 decibels
Earth itself has a sound, an incessant hum caused by pounding ocean waves measured at a frequency 10,000 times lower than what humans can hear
Speak up out
For now is the time of cicadas; some of them, sleeping underground for seventeen years, are due to rise.
Yesterday, when the sun was brightest, I walked and walked the path around the graveyard of a country church, listening for the first strains.
Seems they are late. I wonder why.
I thought about their wings, how the sectional lines running through the lower portion of these long, diaphanous structures form the letter W or P. It is said that these are omens for War or Peace.
Unless Nature is a prophet.
Whatever pattern lies in the veins of their wings, or however it’s perceived, the cicada’s song is always one of life. Of survival. It is individual. It is collective. It is precious.
Most people call it cacophony, a harsh, deafening, discordant noise … not hearing the song for what it is. Not recognizing it the way cicadas do. We are not cicadas.
Yet there’s something of us, of all living things, in the sound. A song not heard with ears but with the heart, that ceaseless hum of our own brief journey from the womb to the ground. A song of earth, ocean, dust of the stars, for we are repurposed atoms of these; we carry them all, and each other, within us. Can we even hear our own song, any more than we can know our own heart, for what it really is? How can we even think we know someone else’s?
Until it becomes a collective cry of the heart.
Speak up out
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
even in sorrow, loss, grief, despair
even in fear, rage, hurt
especially in overcoming, healing,
rising, at long last
to greet the season of change.
Today, Two Writing Teachers shared words from Toni Morrison: This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore the pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
Like that of Jordan Kim, who created this cicada collage. Her mission: To inspire others to honor our connection to the natural world and to each other.
Let it be our repurposed song, fashioned from the fragments of our hearts. Let it be positive. Let the Earth ring with it.
Not just the baking of them as a means of COVID-coping productivity, but as an expression of the times.
My daughter-in-law—artist, baker, craftsperson extraordinaire—created these cookies a few weeks ago. She and my son delivered them with my granddaughter via a front porch social-distance visit:
My ebullient four-year-old granddaughter belly-laughed on presenting these whimsical delights: “TOILET TISSUE COOKIES!!!!!”
“And face masks and soap!” I exclaimed.
“They’re too pretty to eat!” said my husband.
But we did. Every crumb. With joy.
I thought about the joy with which these cookies were infused, how ingesting them was an antidote to the virus zeitgeist. What you put into a thing is what you get out of it …
Yesterday my son and his family made another delivery:
“Ooooohhhhh,” my husband and I breathed in unison.
As we admired the astonishing artistry, I noted a shift in the cookie symbolism: Not just physical survival, as in the previous batch, but spiritual (coffee counts as both, right?). The fleur-de-lis, emblem of our daughter-in-law’s Louisiana roots, long associated with Christianity and the church, an icon from antiquity for royalty and protection. Choosing to believe, as the stages of isolation drag on, that the uncertain future can, and will, be beautiful. “Unbridled hope for tomorrow” … such trust. Such zest for life.
And a pencil.
Truth is, we write our tomorrows by our choices today … and nothing represents spiritual survival to me more than writing.
I call it: “The pencil is mine.”
“I want this one,” said my husband, picking up the fleur-de-lis. How he misses going to church, being with the flock he pastors. A shepherd pining for restoration, preservation.
Those words have been lurking, brooding, around the perimeter of my mind this long, strange, separated spring.
Even on the brightest days, the wind remains a peculiar Presence in my otherwise quiet corner of the world. This is not normal behavior. I cannot decide if its constant moaning represents mourning for the dead and those yet to die of COVID-19, grief for the state of the world at large, or if it’s a harbinger of bleak times ahead for human existence. The earth lives on, arrayed in spring splendor, while the life and livelihood of people has frozen. Time stands still. For how long, we don’t really know: what time frame is there for outlasting a deadly microorganism? Seems the wind knows … on and on it blows, perhaps not ill in itself, but certainly as a soundscape to a ravaging illness. Somewhere in the sound is a sense of statues, cracking, crumbling, turning to dust, being swept clean away.
So it seems to me, anyway. Sometimes.
Haunting, daunting, taunting, flaunting … I cannot decide which. Perhaps all.
Then, the trees.
Last week, while composing my “I Am From” poem, I decided to choose a representative tree. I meant to write of bald cypress, for I love them, I identify with them, they are a symbol of my southern heritage. I even love the sound of the name. Cypress. But almost instantaneously a vision crowded out any other tree: the little pine sapling that grew to a towering height in the backyard of my childhood home. When I left at twenty, it was a majestic presence, a sole monarch holding dominion over the ditch-adjoined, chain-link backyards of the neighborhood. Hardly an enchanted kingdom, but don’t try to convince my pine of that. It would be my representative tree. Reaching ever-skyward, grown wide with long, heavy, green-needled boughs undulating like ocean waves. Whispering, whispering, always whispering …
Today I read this tweet by Robert Macfarlane:
Word of the day: “susurrate”—to whisper, murmur, esp. of noise produced by numerous individual sources of sound (bees humming, leaves rustling, etc.) Compare to “psithurism,” its similarly sibilant sense-sibling, meaning the whispering of wind in trees (from Ancient Greek).
—That’s how the universe works. Messages of perception. Then sometimes supplying the exact right word (the universe is a writer).
Pining Sighing Inner crying Truths revealing Hidden healing Unknown to me Regal tree I listen listen to your whisper whisper Susurrus secrets, ceaseless, swirling Mystery messages written by the wind
There’s something being said, for sure. If only I spoke pine. Or wind.
Pines, by the way, represent survival, longevity, protection (think “shelter”). Sometimes the pine is called the tree of life. Perhaps there’s a promise in this psithurism.
But you, Wind, remember—you’re ill if you don’t bring something good.
Last night a concert by tenor Andrea Bocelli was televised. He wanted to offer a message of hope to the world; his own country has been ravaged by COVID-19. And so he was recorded with only an organist on Easter Sunday in the Duomo di Milan, resplendent and empty … when he walked outside, alone, to sing “Amazing Grace” on the cathedral porch, the screen displayed the empty streets of major cities around the world.
Listening, watching, I thought this is one of the most abiding images of our time.
A golden shovel today, in honor of Bocelli, his gift, the wounded world-in-waiting, the healing power of music, prayer, and hope:
How amazing this lone figure of grace standing on the church steps singing of how prayer and hope turn bitter times sweet while in the deserted streets his angel-voice is the only sound.
One of my favorite themes in literature—in life—is redemption.
Life’s a complicated adventure. Things happen. We respond to them. Each of us is an individual, complex universe of tangled history, experience, emotion, psyche, and DNA. We make choices and our choices make us … and our story. As Shakespeare would say, “Thereby hangs a tale.”
Since I read The Goldfinch in February, while homebound with snow and a broken foot (which seems an eon ago, now) I’ve thought about how certain choices reveal true character more than others. For all the breathtaking artistry of the author’s craftsmanship, in all the moments I paused to reread passages to absorb more of their glory as the story swept me away, one little, shining nugget wedged itself in my heart deeper than anything else. Perhaps it is strange, I don’t know, and I will try not to be a spoiler here … suffice it to say that the main character, suffering from trauma, descends into self-destructive behavior as a means of coping. As he attempts to escape his circumstances, he takes a little dog with him rather than see it neglected. It’s not his dog and he’s actually embarrassed by its “girlishness” (it’s a Maltese) but his appalled distaste over the treatment of the animal and the conditions in which he first found it motivate him to make a rescue at risk to himself. This I found strikingly heroic. A revelation of the character’s inner wiring working at its best. Redeeming.
Then of course there’s the loving character of the little dog itself and I am quite, quite sure that I would have found that just as poignant if I had not had a little dog curled up in my lap as I read the novel.
I have been wanting to capture these sensations, somehow, ever since. Suddenly, today, it gels. Maybe it’s because the sun dawned so bright this morning on our troubled, changed world as it wobbles on. Maybe because this brightness mingles with a searing sense of grief and apprehension about the days to come. About how much of life as we know it will be lost. Destroyed. I’ve been writing an abnormal amount of poetry so maybe images are standing out with sharper edges and taking clearer form than usual.
At any rate, this is my first attempt at a nonet, inspired by that act of rescue in The Goldfinch. Maybe it’s about wishing for rescue. Or redefining it. Sometimes, in saving another, one is often saving oneself …
Redemption may be life’s greatest theme a sign that all hope is not lost overcoming brokenness in the effort to save another creature not capable of saving itself. =Love.